I know I proclaim to have many food loves of my life, but I have another one for you – polenta.
The way in which it’s served doesn’t matter to me, because I’ll take it any way I can get my hands on it. Ultra creamy with butter, cream and truffles; under a bed of spicy tomato sauce and perfectly poached eggs; fried up until crisp and golden brown, but still soft on the inside; in crouton form; or as we have today, in fry form, baked until crisp with lots of woodsy rosemary and tangy goat cheese, and then dunked into a vat of spicy tomato sauce.
I can’t even remember the first time I tried polenta, but I’ve been smitten with it for quite some time. My most memorable polenta experience happened a few years back when I was in Miami for a girlfriend’s bachelorette party. A handful of us girls went out for an ultra upscale dinner at Scott Conant’s Scarpetta, where we embarked on a phenomenal multi-course Italian meal. My friend Jamie and I split an appetizer of creamy polenta with a fricassee of truffled mushrooms that was life-changing. All the both of us could do was to just inhale the entire bowl, amidst random noises of deep sighs and OMGs. I’ll never forget the velvety texture of the polenta, coupled with the earthiness of those truffled mushrooms; it was pretty much like heaven on a very delicious earth.
I’ve been trying to replicate the polenta ever since, but have come up short each time, but trust me, when I do finally perfect it, the first thing I’m going to do is post it here, because everyone needs to try it once in their lifetime. But for now, I’ll have to settle for something I can perfect.
A while back I was making cornbread or something of that nature, and was sure I didn’t have any cornmeal at home, why I didn’t check I have no idea, so I went to the store and bought a big tub of cornmeal, to come home and find that I already had TWO more tubs. I don’t exactly have the largest pantry, so to just forget I already had about ten pounds of cornmeal is slightly alarming. As a result, I’ve been trying to use it up any which way I can. I’ve made cornmeal pancakes, cornbread and polenta more times that I can count, and I’m still not sick of it.
Typically when I make polenta at home, I’ll use an instant polenta, just to save time, but I have to say, I now prefer the texture better when it’s made with cornmeal. Even though it takes a bit longer to cook, the final product is so soft and creamy, without the slightest hint of grit.
To start, you just bring about 4 cups of water to a boil (you can also use chicken or vegetable stock, but in this case, for fries, I just went with water) and very very slowly whisk in the cornmeal, keep whisking until it’s all incorporated. Now, you are supposed to whisk constantly for about 20 minutes, but I cheat and just whisk every 30 seconds to a minute, it still yields a super creamy polenta. At this point if I’m going with a creamy polenta, I take it off the heat and add in a few pats of butter and cream (or milk); but since I wanted the polenta to be firm when cooled for the fries, I took it off the heat, threw in my crushed rosemary and goat cheese and skipped the added butter and cream. Working quickly, pour the soft polenta into a small greased sheet pan, spread evenly and let cool completely. What’s nice about this step is you can make and chill the polenta a couple days in advance, which is what I did.
Once you’re ready to bake them up, invert onto a cutting board and cut into fry shapes, coat them in a little bit of chickpea flour (I’m off white flour, but even if I weren’t, I love the crispy exterior chickpea flour provides), or all-purpose flour, line ‘em up on a baking sheet and bake until super crispy.
While the fries were baking, I whipped up a quick spicy tomato dipping sauce with some canned tomatoes, garlic and red pepper flakes, but a quick garlic or rosemary aioli would also be phenomenal.
Once the fries are fresh out of the oven I like to dust them with a little bit of grated parmesan cheese and kosher salt for a finishing touch.
Crispy on the outside, but soft as butter on the inside, just the way I like my french fries. Take that potato!
- 4 cups water
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1½ teaspoons crushed dried rosemary
- ¼ cup goat cheese.
- ½ cup chickpea flour
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 14 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 garlic clove
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flake
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Grease a small baking sheet.
- In a medium saucepan bring water and salt to a rolling boil. Turn heat down to medium. VERY slowly whisk in polenta. Reduce heat to a medium-low or low, whisk almost constantly for 20 minutes until thick and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Remove from heat and add in goat cheese and crushed rosemary.
- Working quickly pour creamy polenta into prepared pan. Spread evenly, you want it to be about ¼ to ½ inch thick.
- Let cool completely at room temperature or in the fridge.
- (CAN BE MADE ONE TO TWO DAYS IN ADVANCE).
- When ready to bake, invert on to a cutting board. Cut into fry shapes and dredge in chickpea flour, removing excess when done.
- Place a cooling rack on a cookie sheet and spray with olive oil spray.
- Place fries on cooling rack and bake for 25-30 minutes until crisp and brown.
- Make the sauce while the fries are in the oven. Heat the olive oil over a medium heat in a small skillet or saucepan. Add garlic, cook one minute. Add tomatoes, salt, sugar and red pepper flakes, simmer until fries are done cooking, about 15 more minutes.
- Sprinkle fries with parmesan cheese after they are removed from the oven.